RALEIGH, N.C. — When the John William Pope Foundation celebrates its 25th anniversary at a dinner Dec. 3 at the North Ridge Country Club in Raleigh, all proceeds from the event will benefit StepUP Ministry.
The choice of StepUP, which hopes to get as much as $300,000 from the event, reflects the mission and philosophy of the foundation and its founder and namesake, says Art Pope, the foundation’s chairman and president.
StepUP “focuses on taking those individuals that don’t have the job skills or training, or already are in poverty, and providing them with these skills they need to get their first job, get that first step up on that first wrung of the ladder, to provide for themselves, and to escape poverty,” says Pope, whose father, John W. Pope, founded Variety Wholesalers, the discount retailer that is the main source of the foundation’s assets.
The foundation, which had nearly $136.8 million in assets and made just over $9 million in grants in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, has made grants totaling $89 million since it opened in 1986.
The foundation received most of its assets in the form of company stock through the estate of Art Pope’s brother, John W. Pope Jr., who died in 2004.
And in December 2010 it received gifts of $3.5 million each from Art Pope and his sister, Amanda Joyce Pope, a member of the foundation’s board.
The foundation’s mission is “improving the lives of the people of North Carolina,” says Pope, a former member of the state House of Representatives who is chairman, CEO and president of Variety Wholesalers and has become a powerful and controversial player and financial backer in North Carolina politics.
The foundation works to advance that mission, he says, through direct support of nonprofits and higher education, and by supporting research and advocacy groups that promote free-market public policies “that enable people to provide for themselves and for future generations, their children, our children.”
Just over half of the foundation’s total funding in the past 25 years has supported public-policy work in North Carolina, with over half of those funds, or nearly $25 million, supporting the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh think-tank.
In the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, the Pope Foundation gave $2.61 million to the Locke Foundation, a total Pope compares to the nearly $2.7 million the Winston-Salem-based Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation gave the same fiscal year to the North Carolina Justice Center, a progressive research and advocacy group.
“I personally, and the Pope Foundation, believe that North Carolina benefits from a very healthy public-policy debate,” he says, “and there’s plenty of funding on the left, progressive side, and we’re happy to try to match that on the conservative, classical-liberal side.”
Another 18 percent of the foundation’s funding over the years has supported higher education, mainly in North Carolina, including $5.7 million to Campbell University and $5 million to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, while 17 percent has supported national public-policy work by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and Institute for Justice, a public-interest litigation group.
The remaining 10 percent of the foundation’s funding, or roughly $1 million in the fiscal year ended June 30, 2010, has supported community philanthropy in North Carolina, mainly in Wake County and mostly in the form of operating support.
The foundation, for example, supports local groups such as Habitat for Humanity of Wake County, Food Bank of Eastern & Central North Carolina, Salvation Army and American Red Cross that “help people in poverty suffering from adverse circumstances who literally may be hungry,” Pope says.
But he says the foundation also is one of the biggest supporters of arts groups such as the North Carolina Symphony, Carolina Ballet, Raleigh Fine Arts, North Carolina Theater and North Carolina Opera Company.
The foundation’s main focus is on “alleviating poverty,” he says, but “enriching people’s lives through arts and culture is important as well.”
The foundation’s support of groups like StepUP Ministry addresses the symptoms of poverty, Pope says, while its support of policy groups like the Locke Foundation reflects its long-term solution for poverty by promoting a “free-market economy that provides jobs, creates growth,” so that “each generation does better than the previous generation.”